Think about your most-used Mac apps. You might choose Safari, Pages, iPhoto or iTunes. However, an app that might escape your furious list-making is Finder, largely because the Mac's file-browser is so ubiquitous that people often forget it's an application.

Finder is designed to be sleek and efficient, providing you with various ways of accessing and viewing documents on your Mac. But like many Apple apps, it's also multi-layered, having by default a simple setup, but offering extra options 'under the hood'.

We'll look at some of the best options, show how to access and activate them, and detail how they can speed up your workflow.

If you find the current Finder a little too cluttered and pine for the simpler days of Mac OS 9, windows can be changed to resemble those from Apple's older system. Click the pill-shaped button at the top-right of a Finder window and the toolbar and sidebar vanish.

This also reverts Finder to a more 'spatial' model; when accessed from within Icon view, clicking folders opens them in a new window, and you cannot open the same folder in multiple windows – instead, Finder reveals the window that's already displaying the folder you're trying to access.

01. The default setup

If you've not made any changes to Finder's setup since you've had your Mac, it will resemble what's shown in the grab above.

Step 1

Finder window toolbars will show the Spotlight search field and eight buttons: Back/Forward, the four views (Icon, List, Column, Cover Flow), Quick Look, and Actions. On the desktop, icons for files and folders will be scattered around, positioned wherever you left them, and only some volumes will be visible.

02. Tidy your desktop

Step 2

There are two steps to a neater desktop. First, go to Finder > Preferences. In General, uncheck volumes you don't want to show on the desktop (bearing in mind mounted volumes can be accessed from Finder window sidebars). Then go to View > View Options and set Arrange by to Name to force items to be listed alphabetically.

03. Show and hide item info

Step 3

Leave the View Options window open. Keep an eye on the items on your desktop and check Show item info. You'll see that for certain document types, additional information is displayed. This option can in fact be set for any folder (via the View Options window) when you're using Icon view.

04. Tweak icon mode

Step 4

On the desktop, icons are restricted to a maximum size of 128x128 pixels (adjusted by using the slider in the View Options window). However, open another Finder window, change it to Icon view (via the toolbar button) and drag the slider to the right. At its maximum setting, icons are 512x512 – handy for PDF and image previews.

05. Control column sizes

Step 5

Column view also has some handy resize tricks, this time relating to column widths. You can drag each column's widget, but a double-click stretches a column to fit the longest item's name. Option-click a widget to expand all columns in this way. Shift+Option-clicking expands all columns to match the widest. Option-drag to resize columns manually.

06. Customise Finder windows

Step 6

Finder windows can be customised. With the sidebar, system-level items are toggled using the Sidebar section of Finder's preferences, but you can drag any file, folder or app there as a shortcut. (Drag a link out of the sidebar to remove it.) You can also drag items to the toolbar; To remove an item Ctrl-click and select Remove Item.

07. View path information

View > Customize Toolbar offers access to more buttons. Path is useful for rapidly moving up a folder hierarchy. Use View > Show Path Bar for an always-onscreen equivalent at the bottom of each Finder window. Path-bar folders can also be dragged and dropped, and items can be dropped into them.

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First published in MacFormat Issue 224

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